Yorkshire's Jason Gillespie on cricket, family and why he's batting for veganism

Fast bowlers aren't meant to be deep thinkers, but Jason Gillespie bucks the trend. Grant Woodward meets the Yorkshire coach as his team chase history.

By The Newsroom
Monday, 6th June 2016, 6:00 am
Updated Tuesday, 7th June 2016, 10:53 am
Yorkshire CCC coach Jason Gillespie pictured at Headingley Stadium. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe
Yorkshire CCC coach Jason Gillespie pictured at Headingley Stadium. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe

“Oh that’s just delightful,” announces Jason Gillespie as he celebrates the fall of another Lancastrian wicket, earnestly jotting it down in the blue notebook he carries with him.

It’s late morning on the first day of June and the Headingley floodlights are on. A scattering of hardy souls sip from steaming flasks as they watch the final day of the Roses match play out in Autumnal conditions.

For Yorkshire’s coach it may as well be an Ashes decider.

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Jason Gillespie, as Hulk Hogan, joins his Yorkshire players on a celebratory pub crawl in 2014. Picture: Ryan Sidebottom/Twitter

“I’m a cricket tragic mate,” he shrugs. “It’s not unusual for me to spend a whole day here, then get home and watch a game from somewhere around the world on TV. It drives my wife mad.”

Anna Gillespie’s loss has undoubtedly been the White Rose’s gain. Her husband’s obsessive qualities have helped take Yorkshire from the Second Division to consecutive Championship titles.

A repeat this season would secure the first treble seen at Headingley since the all-conquering sides led by Brian Close in the 1960s.

Such success explains why Gillespie’s name keeps being linked to international coaching jobs. A year ago it was England who were sounding him out to take over the national side. In the past week he has ruled himself out of becoming bowling coach to the country of his birth.

Jason Gillespie, as Hulk Hogan, joins his Yorkshire players on a celebratory pub crawl in 2014. Picture: Ryan Sidebottom/Twitter

Darren Lehmann, a fellow South Australian and Yorkshire old boy, sketched out the role to him on a recent visit to his home in Leeds during a flying trip to England.

Gillespie was flattered, but passed. “It would mean 270 days away from home, which is a lot of time with a young family at an important phase of their lives.

“Darren’s not going to go on forever and who knows, if the head coaching role comes up it might be something I think about.

“In five years’ time, when my kids are older and I’m in my mid-40s, then maybe that’s something I could consider. But right now it just doesn’t seem the right fit.”

The fact his four children – three boys and a girl aged from 10 to three – have settled so well in Yorkshire is a big reason Gillespie’s still here. He’s also become a grandfather, his daughter from a previous relationship having recently given birth to a baby girl back in Australia.

But despite the astonishing success he has delivered, the former fast bowler is not sure how much longer his stay at Headingley will last.

“My plan is to come back next year, the club seems happy to have me back, so at this point that’s what I’m planning on doing,” he says. “I won’t be in this role for 10 years, I can pretty much guarantee that.

“Whether it’s the end of next year or the year after I don’t know. It’s always about whether you feel you’re a positive influence and contributing and we’ll gauge that. I’m not looking too far ahead.”

In the here and now he’s keen to secure a couple more years at the Adelaide Strikers, the side he coaches on sabbatical from Yorkshire in Australia’s Twenty20 Big Bash league. “If I can do that,” he grins, “I’ll be a happy little boy.”

For a top international sportsman turned highly-motivated coach, Gillespie’s easy-going, let-the-chips-fall-where-they-may attitude seems counter-intuitive. But a shocking family tragedy has given him a keen sense of the bigger picture.

Just under three years ago, his father Neil died from a heart attack while on a visit from Australia. It led to Gillespie turning vegan, a decision which he credits with transforming his life.

“Dad collapsed and I tried to revive him,” he recalls. “He was helping us move into our house here in Leeds.

“That year after he died I was kind of in no man’s land. I just started to do a bit of research on health and nutrition, then I watched a couple of documentaries.

“There was one in particular, Earthlings (the Joaquin Phoenix-endorsed film looking at mankind’s use of animals). It started as a health thing, but after watching that I couldn’t be a part of a society which treats animals the way we do.”

It’s now nearly two years since he consumed any animal products, his only regret being that he didn’t make the change sooner.

“It’s made me look at all aspects of my life. Things like clothing for instance. I’ll go to the St Gemma’s Hospice shop if I need a new shirt. That money goes to charity, I get a recycled shirt and I know someone’s not in a sweatshop getting 10 cents an hour to allow me to wear a T-shirt with a logo on it.

“My wife and I often talk about it, because she’s vegan as well. I feel like I’m looking through eyes without blinkers on. We treat animals like s**t, we really do. And in my opinion there’s no justification for that.

“These slaughterhouses, dairies and piggeries, zoos. It’s cruel and it’s speciesism (the idea humans have greater moral rights than animals) at its very worst and I don’t want to be part of it.

“Hopefully one day the dairy industry can be shut down. I think it’s disgusting and wrong on so many levels. Slaughterhouses too. There are a lot of things we say in this world that are bulls**t. ‘Humane slaughter’. No one’s been able to explain that to me. How is killing humane?”

Gillespie’s views will offer food for thought in a county proud of its farming heritage. Not to mention the fact the Yorkshire players’ shirts are emblazoned with the logo of cheese firm The Wensleydale Creamery.

“Yes, they are a sponsor,” he says. “But it doesn’t mean I agree with what they do. It’s out of my control, just like the fact that cricket balls are made of leather. I’ll have it out with people, I don’t care. There’s nothing wrong with standing up for what you believe in.”

A similar passion is being poured into Yorkshire’s pursuit of a place in the history books. He knows how much a third championship in a row would mean to the players and everyone connected to a club he is proud to call “the most famous in the world”.

But his short coaching career, and life in general, have lent the man with 259 Test wickets to his name the sort of perspective seldom seen in the world of top flight sport.

He shares a story about his stint prior to coming to Headingley with the Mid-West Rhinos in Zimbabwe. Having organised a full day’s training, he realised the down-at-heel franchise couldn’t afford to provide the players with lunch.

“So me and Anna went shopping the day before and made up dozens of sandwiches,” he recalls. “Because in all likelihood half of them wouldn’t have had breakfast either.

“I thought, how in good conscience can I ask these lads to give me full commitment if they’re not eating?

“You’ve got to remember we’re in the people business first and foremost,” Gillespie says, as another Lancastrian wicket tumbles and Yorkshire edge closer to Roses victory. “Yes, this is a great sport, but it’s just a game.”

When Dizzy turned into the Hulk

Jason Gillespie may take his cricket seriously but he’s not averse to enjoying a few beers with his players. After lifting the county championship in 2014 he tweeted that he had “fulfilled a childhood dream” by becoming wrestling hero Hulk Hogan on a celebratory fancy dress pub crawl through Headingley.

And although he insists his love of wrestling has been overplayed down the years, he still tunes in to the occasional bout.

“I went as Hulk Hogan for a laugh, but if there’s nothing else on telly I’ll maybe watch a bit of it,” he said.

“I’ve got a lot of respect for what they do because I find it amazing you can get two grown men wearing tights pretending to hurt each other.

“They’ve got to be the greatest marketers on earth, don’t they?”